Waiting for God's New Thing
May newsletter column, "Beneath the Spires"
18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. – Isaiah 43:18-21
As someone who has moved around a lot in her life – whether in the newspaper business or as a United Methodist pastor –it’s always an adventure to discover what each season will bring in the landscape of my new home and community. I get to watch the daily changes in creation as I’m out on my multiple walks with Bella. She may be following the scent of whatever critters or dogs have passed by, while I get to take in the blooms and aromas bursting forth from the trees and flowers.
And with spring there is so much to notice and appreciate. Many of the flowers bordering the driveway along the parsonage are all too familiar – daffodils, jonquils, grape hyacinths, tulips, irises, sedum. And the onion grass is certainly making itself known throughout the lawn.
As we are greeted each day with the appearance of some new growth, I am reminded that God is always up to something new; God is always creating and recreating all around us. Although we’d like to know all about what God is planning beforehand, new things come to us in bits and starts. Sort of like peeling an onion, the new is revealed one layer at a time.
I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s re-creative powers as the United Methodist Church has been dealing with the aftermath of the special-called General Conference in February, and the Judicial Council ruling about the “Traditional Plan” at the end of April. The denomination is in an extended state of turmoil and I don’t see it ending anytime soon. The Traditional Plan approved in St. Louis not only upholds the Book of Discipline’s ban on the ordination of gay clergy and same-sex marriages, but also stiffens the penalties for those who refuse to abide by such exclusionary language.
What pain and heartache have been inflicted by the denomination upon LGBTQIA+ persons and their allies by the words and actions that declare “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” – words that became part of the UMC lexicon in 1972. It seems that those words are more important than Jesus’s message of love, grace, and inclusion for all.
How often have I heard congregations and pastors say that all LGBTQIA+ persons are, of course, welcome to worship in their church. But yet the door is slammed when questions of membership, and marriage, and a call to ministry arise in those individuals. You’re welcome, but . . .
Some individuals and families – both conservatives and progressives – may choose to leave the UMC and seek spiritual care in places that are more aligned with their views. Some churches may decide to leave the denomination, too, and strike out on their own – a plan to allow for such exits was also approved at General Conference.
Bishops, clergy and laity from across the connection (and in the New York Conference) have made public that they will not abide by the continuing exclusion. The trustees at Baldwin Wallace University voted to break ties with the UMC because of the Ohio school’s commitment to inclusivity. A confirmation class of 8th-graders in Nebraska declined to join the church in order to make a stand against the UMC’s rules about homosexuality. Maybe the little children will indeed lead us?
Here in Mount Kisco, I’ve been having conversations with some members of the congregation who are seeking answers and more insight as to the coming days of the UMC and our church. Personally, I have been hoping and praying for a path marking a new way through what feels like a deep, dark wilderness. I have been longing for rivers to spring up bringing new life to those that have been pushed to the margins, and relief to a parched and wounded world.
I whole-heartedly trust that God is indeed doing a new thing for those who choose to follow Jesus and John Wesley, even though we cannot yet fully perceive it. In the meantime, we will continue to follow the loving example Christ set, and live into Wesley’s mandate to do no harm, do all the good you can, and stay in love with God.
Friends, let’s continue to be (or start to be) in dialogue about these matters of full inclusion in the life of the church and in this congregation. It does affect us all. Please let me know what concerns and questions you may have as we inch our way forward into God’s new creation.
In God’s care and service,